Work smart, not hard - facing the culture of busyness
I've just read a great article in Harvard Business Review (I still have a weakness for printed magazines) which resonates with me so much.
Research says - the more busy people are, the more their efficiency drops.
When incentives come from busyness and "hard work", over time, employees go on automatic, following established rules without even questioning them. This is dangerous, especially in a hi-tech industry where "the only constant is change." Too often, we follow procedures set in different landscapes, usually by people who don't work with us anymore.
Busyness is in our nature and is called "effort justification". This bias makes people assume that the harder they work on something, the bigger its value.
As a leader, you can experience that during a performance review. See how often people say, "I worked hard", "I closed x number of tasks", "I worked after hours to deliver my commitment".
Reminder - the value delivered, not the input, matters for the organization.
As a manager, here's what you can do to help people focus on the right things.
Reward output, not only activity - make sure incentives focus on the outcomes of the work, not only the work itself.
Generate deep work, eliminate low-value activities - reduce cognitive load and build an environment supporting focus. Have single priority, reduce task-switching and noise (errors, low-value tasks, false-positive alarms).
Force people off the clock - as a leader, ask people - why they commit things overnight, don't take vacations, or work during weekends. Remind them not to reply to emails during holidays.
Be a good role model - start with taking your vacation. 😉 But also, don't be busy all the time. Be available to people whenever they need you. And constantly show what you achieved, not how hard you worked on that.
Add some slack - extra resources (time, money, equipment), extra space for experimentation, or some redundancy (pair programming). While this seems expensive, these are still cheaper than losing good employees or loyal customers due to all-time-busyness.
"Never mistake activity for achievement" (quote from the article). Being busy doesn't always mean being productive.
References and related materials
- Good manager is not busy all the time
- Assess accomplishments, not responsibilities
- Celebrate Labor Day
- HBR Article "Beware a culture of busyness" was published in March-April 2023 Issue